Don’t you just love eating those fresh picked ripe peaches, apples, pears, strawberries, and grapes. Having a home orchard with lots of fruit trees and eating fresh, home-grown fruit in the summer is a dream for many people. However, wanting a home orchard and having a home orchard is two different things. It can be a wonderful thing if managed right or it can turn into a nightmare if done wrong.
Much of the success or failure of having a home orchard lies primarily on your first decision – the variety of the fruits chosen. Simply going out and buying just any type of fruit tree from just any source is easy enough and sounds like a good idea, right? Wrong. Doing just that and not doing your homework can result in a very bad investment.
Before you select a fruit tree and take it home and plant it, find out what varieties of fruit trees and small fruits grow best in our area. The truth is that it is very difficult to grow most of those types of fruits you see in the grocery store. Alabama climate conditions of hot and dry summers and mild winters just won’t let you have that perfect orchard full of fabulous fruit. That is why other states are known for growing certain fruits. Peaches tend to grow better in Georgia, oranges do well in Florida, apples are perfect in Washington, and everything grows well in California. But don’t worry, fruit can be grown in Alabama and be grown successfully. You just have to know which varieties will work in Alabama.
If you want to grow apples, then try these varieties: Gala, Fuji, Rome, Gingergold, Jonagold, Cumberland Spur, and Granny Smith. There are hundreds of commercial varieties of peaches, but gardeners might wish to try Redhaven, Sweethaven, Cresthaven, Fireprince, Contender, Georgia Belle, Jefferson, and Redskin. If you like pears, then you might want to try Orient, Kieffer, or Moonglow (soft). AU Producer, AU Roadside, and AU Cherry are great varieties of plums.
You won’t go wrong with varieties of figs like Brown Turkey, Celeste, Alma, LSU Gold, and LSU Purple. Our traditional blueberry varieties are Tifblue, Premier, Brightwell, and Climax but some news ones worth planting are Alapaha, Vernon, and Yadkin. Cardinal, Earliglow, and Chandler are a few suggested types of strawberries. Navaho, Kiowa, Ouachita, Arapaho, and Apache are examples of blackberries that will do great. If you like grapes, go with muscadines such as Ison, Pam, Darlene, Fry, Black Beauty, and Supreme since they will do much better than bunch grapes.
Also keep in mind where you purchase your fruit trees and small fruit crops. Always buy from a local reputable nursey, garden center, or specialty catalog source. Many of the variety choices shipped in and sold by retail stores do not grow or do well in Alabama. Nor are they usually labeled and named properly; you will have no idea what you are getting or what size it will be.
Regardless of what fruits you like to eat and are consider growing, pay close attention to the maintenance requirements. Having a home orchard is not a simple and easy task and can be very labor some and time consuming. Almost all fruit plants take 3-5 years to get established before they begin producing their first crops. Many fruit trees like apples and peaches, require a strict and weekly spray program to prevent diseases and insect pests. Almost all require yearly pruning and training, especially muscadine vines. And if all goes well, you still have to keep the deer, squirrels, and crows at bay from eating the precious harvest before you do.
– by Shane Harris, County Extension Coordinator for Tallapoosa County.